Originally published Jan. 27, 2017 on Planet In Crisis
Science can be a pretty inaccessible topic for journalists, particularly when you are writing for a general audience. I know this well, having written my fair share of science stories without a science background. In my own reporting I often found it easier to explain the significance of new scientific findings, be that political, social or purely scientific than I did explaining the actual science at work. But having at least a cursory understanding of the science is important, as the last few days have made painfully clear.
Climate change is one of, if not the biggest story of our generation and so in addition to attempting to change the minds of the skeptics, it is also important that the general public understand what is actually meant by anthropogenic climate change and exactly what human behaviors are actually causing so many problems – because it is more than just burning fossil fuels in big SUVs and an overuse of aerosol spray cans in the 80’s.
The Global Carbon Project, which was formed in 2001 with the goal of developing a complete picture of the world-wide carbon cycle has a great tool called Carbon Story that visualizes the past, present, and future of humans impact on levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
While C02 only scratches the surface of the mountain of damage that humans have done to the planet, it is one of the most widely talked about environmental issues and I personally found this tool to be very informative and engaging.
I would suggest starting where we already are, in the present.
The Present section of this narrative visualizes the 2,000 gigatons of CO2 that human activities have released into the atmosphere as a mass of orange dots. Click on each of the tabs at the top of the screen and those dots divide up to give a percent total perspective on what continents emit the most, what causes the emissions, and when in time the most emissions occurred.
The Past and Future sections are understandably a lot more complex.
In addition to providing a line graph depicting the levels of C02 in the atmosphere from 800,000 BC through 2015, The Past section also contains a visual history lesson of how the change in human work and lifestyle during the industrial revolution set anthropogenic climate change in motion. It’s a simple but not juvenile explanation of what scientists mean when they talk about “Pre-industrial levels of C02.”
The future section is obviously speculative, but it allows the user to interact more with the visualization by choosing a path for humanity to take going forward and then showing the consequence to the land, oceans and atmosphere. (Let’s hope the scenario pictured below doesn’t become reality.)
All of these visualizations were created by a French data visualization agency called WeDoData, which is the collaborative effort of a team of journalists, data scientists, designers and developers. A lot of their work is in French, but even if – like me – you do not speak French, their work is really beautiful and worth checking out.
In addition to following a variety of climate and environment related news sources to fuel this blog, I’ll also be keeping an eye on Twitter. Before yesterday, when President Donald Trump called for a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency, the @EPA Twitter feed would have been at the top of the list. Now perhaps that spot is better filled by @AltNatParkSer, a newly created account run by a rogue tea of National Park Service employees brazenly tweeting about climate change as part of the“unofficialy resistance.”
In all seriousness however, there are an endless number of scientists, science journalists, professors, research centers, and planet Earth enthusiasts speaking the truth about climate change on Twitter, and there is nothing like attempted censorship to bring them out of the woodwork.
My Twitter reading list will include accounts that I have come to trust in, that update regularly about a variety of climate and environment related issues and have an appropriate balance of opinion and reporting facts in what they choose to tweet and retweet
I start with several fellow journalists, including ProPublica reporter and environmental author Andy Rekvin @Revkin, Vox Senior editor Brad Plumer @bradplumer on the self-described apocalypse beat, Kate Sheppard @kate_sheppard from the Huffington Post, and Climate Central writer John Upton @johnupton.
I will also be following prominent climate activits such as Al Gore @algore and Bill McKibben @billmckibben, founder of 350.org’s divestment from fossil fuels campaign. Eric Pooley @EricPooley, is the author of the The Climate War and expert on the politics of climate change.
I’ll also be following Open Climate Data @openclimatedata. I am currently taking a data journalism class and would love to dive into some data for a post or two on this blog throughout the semester.
Lastly, I’ll be tracking the Union of Concerned Scientists @UCSUSA
, which I have turned to for sources multiple times in the past, and the Pew Research Center’s environmental twitter feed @PewEnvironment.